October 19, 2014
August 4, 2014
1) The Abyss of Nothing
‘Whiteout’, said one survivor. ‘Blackout conditions’, said another. A third man reported stumbling through ‘an abyss of nothing.’
These are escapees from the shoulder-high snow and flattening winds which hit theAnnapurna mountain trail unexpectedly last week, at the height of Nepal’s tourist trekking season.
Nearly 40 bodies have been recovered so far; but hundreds have survived – either snatched out of the snow by keen-eyed, sharp-clawed helicopter pilots, or straggling down the mountainside as best they could, clutching at straws which turned out to be guide poles trailing the way down to safety.
Down to the non-descript place where patches of snow give way to blotches of warm earth; and queues of bedraggled survivors look like they’re waiting for the Night Bus home.
Yet how splendid it must have been to come down in the world; to re-enter a lower realm of relative comfort, largely as you left it.
When the trekkers went up, however, weren’t they saying goodbye to all that? Pristine, surely, is what they were after. Above the snow line: the absence of things; and theend of men.
‘Blizzard conditions where the ground became the same as the sky and it was difficult to see which way was up and which way was down’, as one survivor described them, are also the preconditions for the Inhuman Being which tourist-trekkies are sort of, kind of looking for – aren’t they?
They may not admit it, and perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned it – safer to have said they were searching for the Abominable Snowman.
Whoever he is, they only wanted to touch the hem of his garment; but when the Nepalese weather turned unexpectedly absolute, last week’s search party found themselves draped and dying in it.
2) The Abyss of Everything
A hospital waiting room where there’s no need to wait – surely no such thing. But now there is, in Dallas. Patients have fled the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital after one man died there and two of his nurses contracted the Ebola virus.
(Andrew Calcutt is away in the sun this week – this is a guest post by Mark Beachill)
“Quick, on Radio 4. The news said there was a zombie apocalypse.”
My girlfriend has a fascination with all things zombie. Myself I’m too squeamish to watchThe Walking Dead with her. Had she misheard, imagined?
A quick search on Google News led me to the story of a traffic accident in the USA brought on when a parade(?) of people in zombie costumes mobbed a car and the driver, panicked, knocked over a passer-by.
“No! It was in the UK and it said zombie apocalypse.”
Back to Google News. It turned out the railway station announcer in Brighton had bizarrely declared a zombie apocalypse over the tannoy. This was his description of thetorrential downpour after several months’ rain fell in the space of an hour or so, floodingthe station. Even more bizarrely BBC Radio 4 picked it up for their hourly national newsbulletin.
When we get freakish weather nowadays it is not usually zombies that are invoked. More commonly the living are said to be out of control: reckless consumption brings energy use that warms the globe and increases the likelihood of “extreme weather events”.
The threat of ecological and meteorological catastrophe means consumption must be reined in, goes the argument. In less secular times the Biblical flood that put Noah on his ark – with God’s plan to cleanse past sins and start again – might have been invoked. Today it is through is our sins against Gaia through over-consumption that are said bring warning storms. So sure are the BBC, for example, that they now limit air-time for any with an alternative view or even an alternative solution.
But, weirdly enough, perhaps the zombie metaphor is not all too distant from theorthodox explanation. Contemporary zombies are a child of the 1970s, their endless hunger a metaphor for our endless consumption prompted by critiques of mindless consumerism that first emerged in the seventies. It was no coincidence that George Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead, the film that re-launched the zombie, had most of its action set in a shopping mall.